News

Ober Park or K2? You choose

Corrected version.

More than 8,000 surveys were mailed to Vashon voters this week, asking where they think the Island’s library should be. It’s a chance, some say, for Islanders to weigh in before library officials determine the branch’s future.

Officials seek to outfit Vashon with a 10,000-square-foot library, which voters approved in 2004, and are today concurrently exploring two sites: K2 Commons and Ober Park. The mail-in survey asks Islanders which location they prefer.

“The survey’s important because the five people on the library board want to make a decision for the 10,000 or so residents on Vashon without taking into consideration what we want,” said Hilary Emmer, a Vashon-Maury Island Community Council board member and one of the eight people who formulated the survey. “This is for us to speak up and say where we want our library to be sited. We hope they listen.”

Residents have been vocal on the issue; 25 Islanders attended a recent library board meeting in Redmond to give their opinion on the Vashon library and 150 attended a meeting on the Island in January. Nearly all spoke in favor of Ober Park, where the library is adjacent to a popular playground and several apartment complexes and within walking distance of Vashon’s commercial center.

But the backers of the K2 site a mile south of town say the location is walking distance from Vashon’s three public schools, has ample parking and would make use of an existing building — the K2 plant’s former machine shop.

What’s more, library system staff have already endorsed the site, contending it makes more sense financially.

The public library system is poised to sign a purchase-and-sale agreement for a 10,000-square-foot building at K2 that would require little work to become the Island’s library, according to Bill Ptacek, the head of the King County Library System.

“The long and the short of it is to do anything on Ober Park, to expand it or to build a new library there — it could be outside our budget,” Ptacek said. “At this point, we don’t feel like Ober Park is a legitimate option.”

Some Islanders, however, have grown concerned about what they feel is a lack of public input in the library system’s siting decision; they therefore sought support from the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council to poll the Island.

With the community council’s backing, a committee was created — comprised of Islanders on both sides of the issue — to craft a survey they hope can be an indicator of the community’s sentiments.

It was printed and mailed by King County Councilman Dow Constantine, who represents Vashon; surveys began arriving in Island mailboxes on Monday.

The survey asks Islanders to rate K2 Commons and Ober Park as potential sites for the library, to choose between the two and to weigh in on the importance of the library remaining in the town core — between Ober Park and the Chevron station.

“I thought it was important, based on the fact that there’s been so much consternation on all sides, to give the library board an opportunity to know what Islanders think,” Constantine said.

At Constantine’s insistence, three statements have been posted on his Web site giving arguments for three potential sites: Ober Park, K2 Commons or a site yet to be determined within the town core.

“Getting the same pro and con information into people’s hands ... is probably the best shot we have at an objective discussion,” Constantine said.

But even as the Island is being surveyed, library officials continue to move forward on a siting decision that seems to favor K2.

Library staff recently met with the King County Department of Development and Environmental Services, where preliminary analyses suggest that aligning Ober Park with county regulations could take several years and be cost-prohibitive, Ptacek said.

“I think that the timing on (the survey) is really inappropriate,” Ptacek said. “I’m concerned that the community is getting all worked up when they don’t even have all the facts. ... The people may say they want to do something, but if it’s virtually impossible to do, then how is that a choice?”

Library system consultants will present initial cost estimates about the improvements needed at the park at the library board’s March 31 meeting, Ptacek said.

But some proponents of the Ober Park site are angered by Ptacek’s claims and what seems like a headlong rush on his part toward K2.

“They had a meeting with DDES a couple weeks ago; we were promised their meeting notes; they never gave us their notes,” said Bonnie de Steiguer, a member of the survey committee. “I don’t trust that Bill Ptacek has the interests of Vashon library patrons at heart.”

De Steiguer wrote one of the statements posted on Constantine’s Web site; hers is in favor of keeping the library in Ober Park.

She said she became passionate about the issue after she attended a meeting about the library’s location in January, where K2 Commons developers spoke for 40 minutes. “It was a sales pitch for K2,” de Steiguer said, rather than an opportunity for Islanders to have their questions about the library answered. The meeting wasn’t a chance for meaningful public input, she added; the survey is.

She said she hopes it will “prove or demonstrate who’s in the majority” — those who want the library to move to K2 or those who want it to stay in Ober Park, which she called a safe, beautiful and centrally located space.

The developers of K2 Commons, however, remain opposed to the survey.

K2 developer Truman O’Brien, who participated on the community council’s survey committee, said he doesn’t believe its results will be “a very valuable gauge of public sentiment” because the mail-in survey method won’t produce statistically valid results.

“Self-selection — basically any time the person selects themselves to respond, there’s a bias,” he said. “I don’t care if it comes out 4,000 for K2 and none for Ober. It’s still not a valid survey.”

Library board chair Jessica Bonebright said the board will take note of the survey results, though they won’t be the only factor the board uses when deciding where Vashon’s library should be.

“Our goal is to have a library that meets the needs of the people on Vashon, so knowing what they want ... is very appropriate,” Bonebright said. “This is a chance to make sure the message we’re getting is balanced, and we’re hopefully hearing equally from a variety of people.”

Information

Those who are not registered voters but would like to weigh in on the library may call Hilary Emmer at 463-7277 to get a survey.

Islanders are asked not to copy the survey or turn in copied surveys. The statements in favor of Ober Park, K2 Commons and “within the town core” are posted online at www.kingcounty.gov/constantine.

Information in this article, originally published on March 18, 2009, was corrected March 19, 2009. A print version of this story incorrectly quoted Truman O'Brien about the significance of the survey. The correct quote is contained in this online version of the story.

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